How to build an effective communications plan using 7 key tricks.

What is a communications plan?

A marketing communications plan is the technical term for answering the question of how you get your product or service seen in front of the right kind of people.

Your marketing cake recipe!

When I was young I used to love baking cakes with my Mum. She would carefully measure out all the ingredients; sugar, flour, butter…and then let me crack the eggs. It was my favourite part, cracking eggs. Only because I enjoyed this bit the most, I would often neglect the attention required to the other elements; the careful creaming of the butter and sugar, the incorporating of flour and so forth, let alone the optimum cooking time, position in the oven and temperature. But I was great at cracking eggs – so what did it matter?!

Truth is, it mattered lots! My cake would be flat, burnt, hard, dry, soggy or tasteless, depending on how I looked after the raw ingredients or how I ignored the science of baking.

Now this is loose analogy I get that, but the message is clear: you can be fantastic at one element of marketing, but ignore the others at your peril!

Your product isn’t selling? Maybe it is missing a key ingredient.

Your customers aren’t becoming aware of your brand? Perhaps you have focussed too much time on other factors of the communications mix; the best bits, the bits you find most fun??

The 7 elements of a Marketing communications mix…and how I use them

As a marketer, and a marketing trainer here in Sheffield I try to use examples as much as possible of the theory actually applied to my own business, to try and show those who aren’t marketing savvy, just how effective marketing can be on a business, if you can see past the sometimes dry topics (well, not for me anyway!).

  1. Advertising

Straight up advertising. Paid space to use someone else’s platform or asset. We all do some form of advertising and more so online. I use Facebook advertising all the time, often spending hundreds of pounds a month on the platform.

Often though business owners can put all their eggs in this one basket as it can be expensive, whereas the smarter business owner needs to understand that one ad, and one campaign is likely not going to be you the results you need.

Pros of advertising:

  1. It gets you seen by a lot of people quickly
  2. A well designed advert can stay in the memory for much longer than the campaign running time (M&S Christmas ad anyone?)
  3. Targetted ad campaigns can drive a lot of relevant traffic to your website or business

Cons of advertising:

  1. It is often expensive
  2. Campaigns have a finite start and end time
  3. In print campaigns, it can be quite hard to specify a target market to make the most of your investment
  4. It can be hard to track results – especially in print

2. Sales Promotion

I use sales promotions at my Power Hour Network events. It’s a great way to reward loyalty, say thank you to those who support the events and encourage early purchase. Be cautious though, it should only be used in short bursts, otherwise it is not a pricing promotion, it becomes a long term price strategy!

Pros of Sales Promotions:

  1. It gets sales in the bag
  2. It is a reason to contact customers and potential customers
  3. It rewards loyalty
  4. It is cheap to implement

Cons of Sales Promotions

  1. It eats away at your profits
  2. It can mask over other cracks of poor products
  3. They can become long term pricing strategies and people start to switch off!

3. Events

I love the idea of brining brands to life. My experience with promoting live music and events across Sheffield’s nightlife really gives me a bit of an upper hand in seeing the value of applying live events to your sector.

I believe every sector can support live events, and I believe you are the one to bring it to life!

The 0114 Marketing events and my marketing training events are brilliant examples of how you can and should bring your own brand to life. I have delivered marketing training for Google, Business Sheffield, and Ideal Boilers with more partnerships in development.

I have also built the Power Hour Networking event in Sheffield which not only support the attendees with their business growth, but provide me with a platform to deliver a truly unique event for the Sheffield City Region and it positions the brand in a way that is accessible, it is alive, and is approachable.

What kind of event can you host to support your business goals?

Pros of Events

  1. No better way of showcasing your brand
  2. A great way to build new leads for your business
  3. A good way to monetise your brand away from your core services

Cons of Events

  1. Time consuming. Events don’t just sell themselves!
  2. They are hard work in a competitive events space – you must find and work towards your own niche.
  3. While they can be a positive cash driver, there may also be some associated financial risk.

4. Direct Marketing

According to Shopify, Direct Marketing is a promotional method that talks direct to customers that does not rely on a form of advertising (Link: https://www.shopify.com/encyclopedia/direct-marketing)

In this sense, the 0114 Marketing Facebook group is a form of Direct Marketing. But in the traditional sense, I often think of leaflets, letterbox drops and telephone sales. It is not something I have done that much of recently, though in the past it was a key part of our communications as we would send monthly birthday mailers to our database and so on.

I do use email marketing which is the modern form of direct marketing, but as a part of my ‘marketing cake’ it is a small element at the moment.

Pros of Direct Marketing

  1. It is a great way of talking directly to a warm audience
  2. Cost effective if you have a list of group that is relevant to the campaign
  3. A fast return on time and cash investment should be achievable

Cons of Direct Marketing

  1. It can be expensive when done in physical print form.
  2. Hard to gauge results on cold traffic campaigns
  3. Can swallow up budget and resource from other elements of the communications mix.

5. Personal Selling

For me, this is the often most neglected part of the communications mix; the getting the customer over the line part of the sale. In marketing terms, it is called personal selling and I think it is where most will fall down.

You could have a brilliant campaign, leads pouring in, enquiries left right and centre, but if you don’t have the skills or inclination to ease that potential customer across the line, that is all you have; a potential customer!

What stops you from asking for the sale?

Modern day personal selling can be branded as Social Selling.

Pros of personal selling

  1. It is personal!
  2. It is highly effective for getting conversions
  3. It is cost effective

Cons of personal selling

  1. It can be seen as pushy if done wrong
  2. It is a skill that needs to be learned
  3. Some business owners just don’t like it!

6. Referral and Reviews

Ok let’s get one thing clear…it’s ok to ask a customer for a review! In fact, by not asking for a review, you are damaging your brand and business for future sales!

If you have a review strategy, you are building a structured process for gathering new work, getting to the top of Google and positioning your business as a market leader. You must start asking for reviews!

Pros of getting reviews

  1. It positions you as the go-to expert in the opinion of others
  2. It helps search engines see what you are good at and will reward you with new work
  3. It is a great way of getting active feedback on your product or service

Cons of getting reviews

  1. Some business owners just don’t like asking
  2. Risk of getting back reviews
  3. Paid platforms can be expensive

7. PR

Classic PR, public relations, is a fantastic way to get your business noticed. It has the potential to reach masses of people on a broad scale but you must have an end goal in mind when purusing PR.

For some of the events I promote I know that my target market are listening to and /or reading certain programmes or articles. This makes PR a very powerful tool for spreading the word of your product / event / service.

It’s sometimes who you know…

PR can be effective and you can indeed get good coverage for free – but it takes time to build trusted relationships with the decision maker or editor in charge. Get to know some good PR people and start building your own relationships with the outlets that matter for your business.

Pros for PR

  1. Usually free exposure for your business to a wide market
  2. It comes across very trustworthy
  3. You can stand out against your competitors

Cons of PR

  1. It is sometimes ‘who you know’ not ‘what you know’
  2. Finding a relevant angle to get coverage
  3. The decision make at the outlet holds the power.

So there you have it! 7 ways to effectively communicate your business. As you can see from my examples, I have used each of these across my business and my career to good effect. Which aspect stands out best to you?

Remember, don’t just focus on the eggs – you must consider each ingredient in turn to build your business cake!

Need to talk more about this or other aspects of marketing your business? Get in touch! You can also find support and conversation around marketing your business on the Facebook group, which is home to almost 600 business owners from across the Sheffield region. Jump on HERE.